I never understood that I grew up with a mentally ill parent until a few years ago. I knew very well that my dad was prone to outbursts and extreme highs and lows. As the oldest child in the divorce, I consciously remember taking on the brunt of his anger during his outbursts to shield my younger brother and sister from what was going on.
We all suspected that my dad was unstable at the time, but it wasn’t until recently that my sister found out he is now medicated. I don’t know all the details of his condition, but I can promise you that he did need help. I really hope he has gotten help today. We are not close at the present moment because of everything I have just described, but we are working toward some sort of relationship.
I think the worst thing about growing up with a parent with a mental illness is the unpredictability. I don’t even know if my dad would remember the stories, or if he has blocked them out because they were so unpleasant, but I do remember him leaving me and my brother and sister several times when he was upset.
One time, he drove away and left us at a fast food restaurant with a group from church. I wasn’t old enough to drive yet, and I tried to put on a brave face, even though I was panicking inside. I didn’t know if he was ever coming back or how we would get home. It was also before the age of cell phones, so I didn’t know who to call. He did come back about an hour later before anyone suspected that we were left there alone and acted like nothing had happened.
It’s tough to talk about these stories, but they need to be said. I came across an amazing anonymous post entitled, “What I want you to know about having a parent who is mentally ill.” Based on the post and my own personal life, I’ve compiled a list of 10 things only kids of mentally ill parents can understand:
1. Having a mentally ill parent is like having a parent with a physical illness that you can’t talk about.
2. “Unpredictable” is the best way to describe living with a mentally ill parent every day.
3. You may not fear for your safety, but you’ll always fear the worst will happen.
4. When the good days are good, they are really good. When the bad days are bad, they’re worse than you can imagine.
5. The good times make you question if the bad times really were that bad… until the next outburst.
6. Things can change on a dime.
7. Public outings are stressful because you don’t know what will happen next.
8. You feel guilty when you wonder if it’s better to have an absent parent or a mentally ill parent.
9. You feel guilty when you wish for a physical disability because it seems easier.
10. Even when you’re with your parent, you still feel so alone.
(Image: Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock)